Archive for Friday, May 23, 2008

Workers start to demolish hard-hit town in China

A woman takes care of her mother at a temporary shelter Thursday in Songlin Village, China, after losing their house in last week's earthquake.

A woman takes care of her mother at a temporary shelter Thursday in Songlin Village, China, after losing their house in last week's earthquake.

May 23, 2008

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— Gone is the constant whine of sirens, the legion of shovel-toting soldiers and orange-suited rescue workers rushing from one mountain of debris to the next.

The town of Beichuan now sits abandoned, except for a handful of villagers returning to scrounge through the rubble for their belongings, and workers in white protective suits, masks and black rubber boots spraying disinfectant.

Excavators and cranes have started to demolish the few buildings left standing. Dogs and chickens roam the streets.

Ten days after China's worst disaster in a generation, it appears the search for survivors - and even the dead - was giving way to the first steps toward reconstruction.

The smell of bleach was overpowering as workers sprayed the disinfectant on buildings, trees, car wheels and the soles of shoes of people leaving Beichuan, where thousands are still likely buried. A layer of lime - used as a disinfectant to sprinkle on bodies - covered roads and any surface where corpses were yet to be recovered.

"There are no more signs of life," said 24-year-old soldier Li Zichuan. He watched excavators demolishing what is left of the Beichuan Middle School, where residents say hundreds of students and teachers were killed.

"During the recovery operation, we dug many bodies up here, so now all that is left is to disinfect the place and then demolish it."

The bottom two floors of the five-story school collapsed in the quake, leaving a squat, leaning wreck.

Rescuing trapped survivors was the first priority of the massive military-led response to the May 12 quake, and teams have pulled 33,434 people from the rubble alive, officials say.

Now, those efforts have come to a virtual standstill. No rescues have been reported since Wednesday.

The government said the toll of dead and missing jumped to more than 80,000. The confirmed death toll rose to 51,151, up almost 10,000 from the day before. Tents are needed most in the disaster zone where the homeless number 5 million, the government said.

State television has sharply reduced live coverage from the disaster zone in Sichuan province. The clip of Premier Wen Jiabao declaring that the search for survivors would continue "as long as there's a glimmer of hope" - played endlessly in the first week - has also dropped from broadcasts.

Instead, on Thursday, Wen was shown delivering a different message on a brief visit to villages near Beichuan. "The motherland has not forgotten them. We have not forgotten them," Wen said of the dead, standing with a group of refugees. He urged the survivors to "turn grief into strength" and build a new hometown as an act of consolation.

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